Corona provides data for Eco Pass issue

For those of you in our area – and especially if you commute using RTD’s Eco Pass – you may have heard about RTD’s proposed plan to eliminate the pass for small businesses. (As background for those of you not acquainted with Denver Transit, RTD is the local transit authority and the Eco Pass is a pass employers can purchase for their employees.) 

This issue has been causing quite the buzz lately and Corona thought it would do its own analysis to see if it really made sense and what the impacts really are (hey, its what we do).  To check our analysis out as well as other information on the topic visit the ecopassforum.  Educate yourself on the issue and then make your voice heard.

(Disclaimer:  Corona has fewer than 50 employees and provides the Eco Pass to them as a benefit)


Corona is a semi-finalist for the Better Business Bureau’s Torch Award

While we typically try not to toot our own horn too much, we just had to share…

Corona Research is a semi-finalist for the BBB’s Torch Award for Marketplace Trust!

This puts us in the top ten of all nominees – and congrats to the other nine firms as well!

In case you are wondering what exactly the Torch Award for Marketplace Trust is, here is an excerpt from the Better Business Bureau’s website:

To be considered for the BBB International Torch Awards in the category of Advancing Marketplace Trust, a company must have set significant new standards of excellence impacting trust in the marketplace through innovative voluntary actions, programs, or sustainment activities. A selection committee will nominate companies that have:
•Developed a new product or service
•Improved the quality of existing products or services
•Developed entirely new markets
•Changed the choices people have or make
•Elevated standards for its industry or developed marketplace standards crossing all industries
•Worked closely within its community to make a positive social impact

The company must have been in business for at least five years and must be financially sound and fiscally responsible. Each program, service or initiative being judged must have been completed by the organization within the past two years or be an ongoing project.

Okay, back to work.  We’ll have a fresh post for everyone on Monday.


Greening Market Research

We’ve been trying to do our part here at Corona to help the environment, or at least minimize our impact on it.  From office recycling, buying “greener” products, to the EcoPass (Denver’s public transit pass provided by employers), we continue to look for ways to shrink our footprint.

That’s why I was quite excited to see an article in Quirk’s Marketing Research Review on “How to green your research” (you’ll need to register to read it, but registration is free).  The article gives several useful tips related to areas of market research, such as travel, research facilities, and everyday worklife.

I won’t recite every pointer here,  but here are a few of my favorites:

  • Fly direct when possible and combine several trips into one.
  • When at facilities, request local food choices.
  • Stay near the client or facility when traveling – and walk instead of renting a car.
  • Digitize everything to reduce paper.

One thing I would like to add to the travel and facilities portion that I think was missing is the use of streaming video.  Why even travel for all your focus groups when you can easily watch them over a secure Internet connection?

What else can we do to minimize the impact of our services on the environment?


The Godless West?

Gallup just released some interesting polling numbers on Americans’ beliefs about God.  Over three quarters (78 percent) believe in God, while 15 percent do not believe in God but do believe in a universal spirit.  Only 6 percent of Americans believe in neither.

But when you slice the data by geographic region, you get some very interesting results–Westerners* are much less likely to believe in God.

Why is this so?  Perhaps the West’s cultural and ethnic diversity translates into more religious diversity.  Indeed, non-Christians (including members of non-Christian religions as well as atheists and agnostics) are much less likely to believe in God.

Check out the Gallup article for more slicing and dicing of this very interesting topic!

*It’s not entirely clear what constitutes the “West” by Gallup’s definition, but I think that it likely includes Colorado.


Our observations on the DNC

Our offices are located just a stone’s throw from the convention center here in Denver (not that we’ll be throwing any stones due to security), and as such, we were right in the middle of it all.  So we thought we would share our own [fun] observations.  (We’ll leave the political commentary for everyone else.)

  • The city has definitely seemed prepared and at least from our vantage point, everything seemed to go as smooth as could be expected with such an event.
  • Denverites really seemed to take it in.  We were essentially tourists in our own city checking out the police in their body armor like a tourist would check out the guards outside of Buckingham Palace in London.  Or crowding around protests like street performers on Pier 39 in San Francisco.  Nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd.
  • People were also chipping in to help.  Giving directions, recommendations and tips seemed standard.  Our own analyst, Geoff, had already assisted several delegates and news reporters with directions by only 8am on the first day of the convention.   We didn’t even need an ad campaign to make us do it.
  • Just like any area with crowds, there were street vendors.  Buttons by the thousands, t-shirts, bobble-head dolls.
  • In addition to the spectacle on the street, there was also great art to be seen.
  • The crowds were so big along the 16th Street Mall that the buses could hardly get by.  It was probably quicker to walk, but with such great weather, who would mind?
  • With all the celebrities, it felt like we were on the west coast.
  • But it felt decidedly dressier too; don’t they know Denver has a casual dress policy?
  • And our local shoe shine guy, Claude, outside our office kept everyone looking good – he even brought out the big shoe shine chair.

And of course the security.  Wow.  You knew it would be high, but who knew there were even this many law enforcement officials in the area?

  • Wondering what hotels the “important” people were staying at?  Just look for the uniformed officers on the corners surrounding it, or the police vehicles lined up for a quick evac.  Of course, some people missed this.
  • Don’t leave your backpack laying around for even a second.
  • Even the horses had riot gear.
  • The police were filming the protestors, the protestors were filming the police, and the tourists (or just locals) were filming both.

Modeling the DNC

The Democratic National Convention held in Denver last week was an overall success thanks to countless hours spent planning by law enforcement, the convention committee, local leaders and a math class from the University of Colorado.  Yep, that’s right – a math class.

NPR aired a story last week about a math class at the University of Colorado that created models to best locate resources such as volunteers and free bike rental stations.  For volunteers, the class had to take into account variables such as the skills and interests of the volunteers, the availability of the volunteers, where the demand for volunteers would be needed, and so on. Similar variables were considered for bike rentals. To further complicate matters, the models were constructed without knowing the values of many variables such as how many bikes would be available.

This challenge made me think of some of the optimization models we make at Corona. Often we have teams working in parallel; one constructing the model and the other crunching numbers creating the inputs. The model has to be flexible enough to allow for a broad range of values without knowing the exact values (or range of values), while ensuring the model still accurately represents the desired real world situation. While the teams work closely throughout the process, it is still an anxious moment when the two parts of the process are combined and we hit the “go” button.

Of course, constructing the actual model is the easy part – designing the model to mimic reality is where the art (and fun part!) comes in. While limitations always exist, nearly any problem can be modeled.  The DNC is just one example, of course.  Need to pick a new location for your business?  You could model where your market to make sure you minimize cannibalization of your other locations.  How about maximizing your marketing budget?  You could use a model to maximize return on your money (and even time) spent.  Consumer behavior?  Population growth?  You get the idea – modeling can help make better decisions for real life problems.

(for our observations on the DNC, see our other post here)


Concerns over online tracking

We’ve talked about privacy concerns before, and as society has become more digital, the digital footprint of individuals – and the resulting concern about where that information ends up and how it is used – will only continue to grow.

The washingtonpost.com recently reported on how some firms track online behavior without explicit consent.  We mentioned before that allowing more targeted advertising can be beneficial to both advertisers and consumers, but the issue of collecting data on users while online extends beyond market research and advertising, including broader privacy fears of how the information could be used (from personal issues such as one’s career to larger issues such as national security).

With the evolving nature of the Internet and technologies enabling tracking, the pendulum will likely swing to either extreme before a consensus can be reached, but at least the conversation is started.

What do you think?  Should there be federal laws?  If you had the option, would you opt out?  Or if you had to opt-in to be tracked, would you?  We’d love to hear from you.


Reliability of Google Trends

I recently wrote a post on Google’s new service, Google Insights, which is an evolution of Google Trends.  As a result of that post, I ran across this post discussing if Google Trends is reliable.

One of the examples used compared the term “market research” to “advertising” and showed that both terms declined (as a percentage of total searches), but advertising even more so than research.  Of course, as noted, this doesn’t necessarily mean advertising is losing popularity, especially considering the growth in online advertising.  But, as Geoff wrote in another Radiance post, you have to be careful what you’re asking for.  In this case, comparing online advertising (growing) to print advertising (declining) would have been more appropriate.

As the amount of information on the web grows, users have become more sophisticated in their searches.  Therefore, the search terms we test must be more detailed and we must test more of them.  After all, it wasn’t long ago that “Yahoo” was a top search on Google (though there are numerous reasons for that too).

We agree that Google Trends and Insights should be used knowing the limitations of what it can tell you (and the methodology behind the numbers), and as with any methodology, those limitations should always be considered when interpreting results.  For one quick illustration of what we mean, look at the middle chart:  the red line is “online advertising”, the blue line is “print advertising”.  Compare that to the top chart where the lines are for “online ads” and “print ads”.  These trends are for searches for the specific terms you enter, not the concepts you are interested in.  They are indexed by the average traffic for whichever term you enter first.

The bottom chart is fun from a linguistic standpoint, and adds a whole layer of interest to the interpretation of the top two charts: the red line is “online advertising” and the blue line is “online ads” — in 2004 and 2005 people typed out “online advertising” in their searches more often than they typed the abbreviated “online ads”, but in later years those usages have started to even out.  What effect does that change in usage have on your interpretation of the results in the first two graphs?  What if I also tell you that you see a different pattern in “print ads” vs. “print advertising”?  See the challenges?

The bottom line is, as always, with data analysis and interpretation:  proceed with caution.

For another (map based) example of this applied to interest in emerging media & technology, check out this post on Techcrunch.


Coffee & Core Competencies

We do like our caffeine here at Corona, so this post on the 14 different tactics (so far) that Starbucks is employing to revitalize their brand caught our eye.

What is interesting about the list of tactics is that almost half are motivated by the same strategic focus: returning Starbucks to it’s “core business” of selling coffee (rather than music, books, or smelly breakfast sandwiches).

Helping organizations understand their core competencies is something we have faced recently on several of our strategic planning projects. This can be surprisingly difficult, especially for established organizations who have been operating the same programs under that same assumptions for a while.  There is an important, but often subtle, difference between “what we are doing,” “what we feel we should be doing,” and “what we’re good at.”  The only thing that matters for core competencies is the last one.

Identifying core competencies is a vital part of developing a viable strategy; if you have no idea what you organization does well, you really have no idea what direction your organization should be moving.  And understanding competencies is the first step to figuring out your sweet spot–the intersection of what you do well, what your customers/constituents want, and what your competitors do not do.

What is especially striking is just how many different things that Starbucks is trying out in order to get back to their core.  Even for large corporations is it not always obvious to them what they do well and how to get back to doing it!

For those that want more reading on the importance of competencies in finding the strategic sweet spot, please refer to this recent Harvard Business Review article (available for purchase at their website).


Cloudwatching

Tag clouds are, at this point in the history of the web, a well known and widely used method of classifying and displying the content of a website.  There are free services to help you design your own clouds (the picture below was designed in wordle). Some of the resulting clouds are quite artistic.

The basic idea is that the cloud shows what is important on a web page through the size (or sometimes color or position) of the word.  For example the tag cloud below shows the content of Radiance from our first post to this point–it’s obvious we’re people persons!

You can see also that surveys, data, charts, markets, trends, and results are important to us.

Tag clouds can be a great tool in qualitative research, showing what terms are used the most in focus groups, by interviewees, or texts found in literature reviews.  It’s not perfect, since it won’t display context (there’s no way to tell in the Radiance tag cloud whether “people” are associated with approving or disapproving statements).  But as a way of artistically displaying qualitative data, I think it’s quite elegant.